Investors Losing Faith in Oil & Gas Industry, High Costs & Low Returns

by Duane Nichols on August 11, 2017

U.S. Fracking Oil Industry in Trouble: Investors Losing Faith?

From the Editor of Marketslant, August 10, 2017

Even though U.S. shale oil production continues to reach new record highs, investors might be finally losing faith in the industry that just isn’t profitable. A perfect example of this, legendary oil trader Andy Hall, known as “God” in the industry, is shutting down his main hedge fund. Hall, who is a noted bull in the oil market, saw his hedge fund, Astenbeck Master Commodities Fund II, lose 30% in the first half of 2017.

While Hall’s hedge fund likely lost money betting that oil prices would rise, the entire energy complex took a beating last week, even though oil and natural gas prices increased. According to the article, Oil Has A Crisis Of Faith, the situation in the U.S. E&P energy sector took a turn for the worst:

If tumbling oil and gas prices aren’t the obvious reason for the sell-off in E&P stocks, then what is?

The likeliest culprit is fear that, even if oil prices aren’t falling further, they are low enough to affect E&P firms’ growth plans — as evidenced in guidance given on a number of quarterly earnings calls this week and last.

One of the biggest losers this week has been Pioneer Natural Resources Co., down 16.5 percent since reporting results on Tuesday evening. Part of the reason it was clobbered so badly is that while it merely trimmed its overall growth rate, it sharply cut its guidance for how many more barrels of higher-value oil it will produce this year. Pioneer blamed this on problems it had with what it called “train-wreck” wells suffering from changes in pressure and the amount of water coming up, forcing the company both to delay its drilling schedule and spend more to strengthen wells.

As we can see in the chart above, all types of energy stocks sold off even though the price of oil increased. In addition, Pioneer Resources stock price is now down nearly 17% since their second quarter news release:

Pioneer Resources is one of the larger players in the Permian oil basin in Texas. According to the data put out by, Pioneer suffered a negative Free Cash Flow of $155 million Q1 and $252 million in Q2. Actually, Pioneer spent a great deal more on capital expenditures (CAPEX) in the second quarter of 2017, by investing $731 million versus $519 million in the first quarter.

Which means, Pioneer spent $212 million more on CAPEX in the second quarter, only to suffer a larger negative free cash flow of nearly $100 million more versus the previous quarter. Of course, this makes perfect sense in our TOTALLY INSANE business world today to spend $212 million on CAPEX only to lose an additional $100 million in free cash flow.

Another large oil player in the Permian, Occidental Petroleum, lost $300 million in its core upstream U.S. segment. The upstream segment of an oil company’s earnings comes from its oil and gas wells. Downstream is the selling of its petroleum products in retail markets and etc. Not only did Occidental lose $300 million in its domestic U.S. upstream earnings in Q2, it also lost $191 million in the first quarter.

Big 3 U.S. Oil Companies Still Struggling Even With Higher Oil Prices

The Big Three U.S. Oil companies have also suffered losses in their U.S. upstream earnings. Exxonmobil lost $201 million and Chevron lost $22 million in the first half of 2017 in its U.S. upstream earning segment. ConnocoPhillips lost $2.7 billion in its U.S. earnings segment during the first half of 2017, however this was mostly due to a huge impairment write-down.

Regardless, no one is really making money producing oil and gas in the United States. While some of these companies may now be reporting positive free cash flow, this has been mainly due to the huge cutting of their of CAPEX spending. For example, these top three U.S. oil companies were spending a great deal more on CAPEX in 2013 than they will in 2017:

Top 3 CAPEX Spending (Exxonmobil, Chevron & ConnocoPhillips):

2013 = $86.6 billion …….. 2017 Est. = $31 billion

These top three U.S. oil and gas majors will reduce their CAPEX spending by $55.6 billion in 2017 compared to 2013. This is a decline of two-thirds in CAPEX spending in just four years. When a company drastically cuts its CAPEX spending, it becomes easier to make free cash flow. However, by cutting their capital expenditures by two-thirds, these U.S. oil majors will not be adding much in the way of new discoveries or additional oil production in the future.

Moreover, Occidental Petroleum, the largest oil producer in the Permian, enjoyed decent free cash flow during the second quarter of 2017. However, a large percentage of their $1 billion in free cash flow was due to a NOL- Net Operating Loss adjustment of $737 million. Occidental actually suffered a negative free cash flow of $111 million in the first quarter of 2017.

That being said, Occidental, was able to enjoy free cash flow because it cut its overall CAPEX spending from $8.4 billion in 2013, down to an estimated $3.3 billion in 2017. So, by cutting its CAPEX spending by $5 billion, it’s much easy to make positive free cash flow:

Not only has Occidental CAPEX spending declined since 2014, so has its cash from operations. Hence, the reason for the huge cut in CAPEX spending. Occidental reported a healthy $11 billion in operating cash in 2014. However, this fell to $3.4 billion last year as the price of oil dropped to an annual low not seen since 2004.

As U.S. oil companies continue to sacrifice exploration and capital expenditures to become profitable or at least break-even, this will cause big problems for oil supplies in the future. That being said, the oil industry has another negative factor to deal with that could spell additional trouble for the fracking oil industry in the future.

One little factor that seems to be overlooked in the media is the staggering amount of water consumed in the production of shale oil and gas in the United States. According to a study reported by Scientific America back in 2015, stated:

Oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought.

Though fracking is used to produce natural gas in less-arid regions such as Pennsylvania, many of the nation’s fracking operations occur in places where water may become scarcer in a warming world, including Texas, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains—regions that have been devastated by drought over the last five years.

As the USGS study indicates, a lot of the oil and gas fracking is taking place in more arid climates. One such arid climate is the Permian Basin in West Texas. According to another article titled, As The Oil Patch Demands More Water, West Texas Fights Over Scarce Resource:

“The Permian Basin is basically a desert, and that immediately presents challenges in finding adequate water,” French said. “You can do without a lot of things. But you can’t do without water.”

At least three other companies in the region are selling or planning projects to sell water to energy companies that use it by the billions of gallons to crack shale rock and release oil and gas. Water use in the Permian has risen six-fold since the start of the shale oil boom, from more than 5 billion gallons in 2011 to almost 30 billion last year. Energy research firm IHS Markit predicts demand will double by the end of this year, to 60 billion gallons, and more than triple by 2020, to almost 100 billion.

As we can see in the chart above, oil and gas companies in the Permian are estimated to consume a staggering 60 billion gallons of water in 2017, double from the 29.6 billion gallons last year. And if these energy companies get enough silly investor money, they will need nearly 100 billion gallons of water by 2020 to produce oil in gas in the Permian. See the graph below!

Unfortunately, water is a scare resource in West Texas as farmers, ranchers, environmentalists and residents are worried that the tapping into billions of gallons of water in underground aquifers will impact the local cattle industry, agricultural crops and possibly dry up natural springs in the area.

The race for the U.S. to produce more oil than we have in more than four decades is costing an arm, leg and a foot, as well as consuming one heck of a lot of fresh water. I believe we are going to look back at this point in history and wonder… WHAT IN THE HELL WERE WE THINKING???

As I have mentioned in several articles and interviews, the wonderful U.S. Shale Oil & Gas Industry really hasn’t made any money for nearly a decade. However, they have added a great deal of debt. Let me present this chart one more time because nothing has changed since the last time I posted it:

Over the next three years, the debt (low investment grade energy bonds) that these energy companies will have to pay back jumps from $67 billion in 2017 to over $230 billion in 2020… just at the time the Permian Basin is forecasted to peak in oil production. However, I have my reservations on that prediction.

While the U.S. continues to produce oil that isn’t really profitable, the overall debt level in the energy sector will likely increase. The only way for this FACADE to continue is under the Fed Policy of low or zero interest rates. If the Fed continues to raise rates, this will certainly put a real KIBOSH on the U.S. Shale Oil and Gas Industry’s ability to finance their ever increasing amount of debt.

Lastly…. oil production in the U.S. will likely continue to rise for a while. The Mainstream media will point to American ingenuity and the push for energy independence as the reasons for all this wonderful new oil production. Unfortunately, someone along the way forgot to mention that most this oil was produced at a loss. The POOR SLOBS that are really going to feel the pain are the investors who went after HIGH YIELD returns as they couldn’t find it in the market today.

Even though the U.S. shale oil and gas companies continue to pay their interest expense (yield to these investors), that has an expiration date. Once that expiration date arrives, and these investors ask for the original funds back….. is when they wish they had purchased gold and silver instead.

But….. sometimes it really takes getting beat up financial to wake up to the fundamentals of owning physical precious metals.

Fracking Oil Wells In The Permian Basin Consumes A Staggering Amount Of Fresh Water

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Zacks Research January 7, 2018 at 10:34 pm

Zacks Investment Research Lowers CNX Resources (NYSE:CNX) to Strong Sell

Posted by Nicole Wilson on Jan 5th, 2018 //

Zacks Investment Research lowered shares of CNX Resources
(NYSE:CNX) from a hold rating to a strong sell rating in a report released on Wednesday, December 27th.

According to Zacks, “CNX Resources Corporation was formed from the separation of natural gas and coal business of CONSOL Energy Inc.’s (CONSOL). This oil and natural gas company is focused on low-cost Appalachian region but will have to fight a difficult battle with the existing major natural gas companies.

Failure on the part of the company to replenish its reserves may impact its production and cash flow. Exploration and production of natural gas involve lots of risks and could impact its operating results.

Since its formation, CNX Resources’ shares have gained higher than the industry it belongs to. CNX Resources’ low cost natural gas production areas of CNX Resources and increasing consciousness to lower emissions will drive demand for natural gas and are going to act as tailwinds for the company.”


Farm & Dairy January 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm

CNX cited for drilling violations in Greene County, PA

Thursday, January 4, 2018 by Sara Welch

CNX Gas Company recently agreed to two civil penalties totaling $433,500 for violations at well sites in Greene County, according to an announcement by the Pennsylvania Department Of Environmental Protection.

A penalty of $241,000 was assessed for violations at CNX’s GH9AHSU And GH53BHS well sites, and $192,400 for violations at the GH58HHS and GH46AHS well sites.

CNX was cited for the following violations:

>> Failure to properly control, dispose and collect flowback and drilling fluids.

>> Failure to maintain containment during drilling and hydraulic fracturing activities.

>> Unauthorized disposal of residual waste.

>> Unauthorized discharge of industrial waste into the waters of the Commonwealth.

>> Failure to maintain erosion and sedimentation Best Management Practices (BMPs) in accordance with the associated permit.

>> Failure to implement effective BMPs to minimize erosion and sedimentation.

>> Failure to maintain alternate waste storage practices requested by CNX and approved by DEP.


Street Insider January 10, 2018 at 2:35 pm

CNX Resources (CNX) Reports 2018 Capital Budget of $790-$880 Million

From the Street Insider, January 9, 2018

CNX Resources Corporation (NYSE: CNX) (“CNX” or the company) announced today an updated 2018 capital expenditure forecast of $790-$880 million, excluding the recent acquisition of the general partner interest of CNX Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: CNXM) (“CNXM”).

The 2018 budget includes $515-$580 million of drilling and completion (“D&C”) capital and approximately $275-$300 million of capital associated with land, midstream, and water infrastructure. The 2018 D&C capital budget is allocated approximately 65% to the Marcellus Shale and 35% to the Utica Shale.

“CNX’s updated 2018 capital plan reflects an industry leading balance sheet and the company’s commitment to invest in high rate of return projects, which will result in substantial value creation in 2018 and beyond,” commented Nicholas J. DeIuliis, president and CEO. “Our development program in 2018 is largely supported by our robust hedge book, which, as of December 31, 2017, has fully-covered volumes with both NYMEX and basis hedges of approximately 375 Bcfe, or 70% of 2018 production volumes, based on the midpoint of guidance. This de-risking of our revenue allows us to lock in attractive rates of return and confidently execute our development plans.”

The company expects 2018 non-D&C capital for midstream, water, and land to drive future stacked pay development and further differentiate CNX’s unique asset base. With CNX recently closing the acquisition to now control 100% of CNXM, stacked pay development has begun to directly impact the capital budgeting process and 2018 represents the initial investment required. This non-D&C capital is primarily driving production over the course of 2019, 2020 and beyond. The new stacked pay development lifecycle allows CNX to develop a single formation first and then come back on a pad to take advantage of existing, first formation, infrastructure.

This development sequencing is essentially doubling the life and value of a field. As a result, rates of return on future development should benefit meaningfully from this infrastructure build-out as CNX capitalizes on the sequencing of dual formation development.

With the company’s recent purchase of Noble Energy’s general partner interest in CNXM, CNX has absorbed Noble Energy’s 50% of capital contributions that they previously made to CNXM. As a result, CNX expects midstream capital in 2018 to be approximately $100 million. Much of the 2018 midstream capital will go towards building out development companies (DevCo’s) outside of DevCo I, which will create future dropdown opportunities.

The company is increasing water capital in 2018 to approximately $75-$100 million, which includes building water infrastructure for two major stacked pay project areas that the company expects to be ready in the fourth quarter of 2019.

This additional infrastructure will increase completion efficiencies by improving cycle times, resulting in additional production, lower costs per barrel, and lower future capital costs. Overall, the company estimates material cost savings by building out water infrastructure, compared to the alternative of trucking water. This water capital investment will benefit the company through future dropdowns of ownership interest into CNXM.

The company’s 2018 land capital is approximately $100 million, which includes title, land acquisition, and permitting, in order to maximize future development. Land capital in 2018 will help CNX build out its core Marcellus and extensional stacked pay Utica areas that are part of the company’s 5-year development plan. A negligible amount of land capital is associated with 2018 development, but instead, the capital that the company is spending in the current year is driving net asset value per share growth by securing future development beyond 2018.

CNX is maintaining its 2018 expected production volumes of 520-550 Bcfe, which equates to an approximately 30% annual increase, compared to 2017 expected volumes, based on the midpoint of guidance. CNX plans to run three rigs through the first half of 2018 and will add a fourth rig starting in July.



Zacks Research January 14, 2018 at 11:20 pm

Noble Midstream Partners Rating Lowered to Hold at Zacks Investment Research

From Samantha Guadardo, Muck Rack, January 13, 2018

Noble Midstream Partners (NYSE:NBLX) was downgraded by Zacks Investment Research from a “buy” rating to a “hold” rating in a note issued to investors on Wednesday, December 20th.

According to Zacks, “Noble Midstream Partners LP is engaged in crude oil and natural gas exploration and production. Its operating area includes onshore which consists of US DJ Basin, Marcellus Shale, Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin as well as offshore in deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Eastern Mediterranean and West Africa. Noble Midstream Partners LP is based in Houston, United States. “

Noble Midstream Partners (NYSE:NBLX) traded up $1.49 on Wednesday, reaching $56.54. The company’s stock had a trading volume of 194,322 shares, compared to its average volume of 112,814. Noble Midstream Partners has a twelve month low of $38.07 and a twelve month high of $56.88. The company has a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.59, a quick ratio of 0.40 and a current ratio of 0.40. The company has a market capitalization of $1,278.95, a P/E ratio of 15.28 and a beta of 0.44.

Noble Midstream Partners LP is engaged in owning, operating, developing and acquiring a range of domestic midstream infrastructure assets. The Company’s areas of focus are in the area of Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin in Colorado and the Southern Delaware Basin position of the Permian Basin in Texas (Delaware Basin).


Kallanish Energy January 18, 2018 at 12:15 am

Company seeks to drill at U.S. Steel mill near Pittsburgh

From an Article of Kallanish Energy News, January 17, 2018

A New Mexico-based energy company wants to drill six natural gas wells at U.S. Steel Corp.’s Edgar Thomson steel mill near Pittsburgh.

Merrion Oil & Gas said it will likely submit a drilling permit application to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in the first quarter of 2018, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported. The independent producer has had preliminary meetings with the state agency.

The company, with headquarters in Farmington, has leased a 10-acre tract from U.S. Steel and the Union Railroad. The site on the mill’s grounds is on the North Versailles-East Pittsburgh border, about four miles east of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River, in Allegheny County.

The company has received conditional use permits from North Versailles and East Pittsburgh municipalities.

The company intends to provide the Marcellus Shale natural gas produced to U.S. Steel for its operations at Edgar Thomson, where 600 are employed. The gas will be used to heat the mill’s blast furnaces.

The results from the first well will determine when the additional wells are drilled, company spokesman Ryan Davis told the Post-Gazette.

The company might also drill from the pad to the deeper Utica Shale and the shallower Upper Devonian Shale, officials said.

The wells will be Merrion’s first shale wells and its first wells drilled in Pennsylvania. It previously has drilled conventional wells in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.



Donald Scott March 18, 2018 at 10:12 am

Investors Purchase High Volume of Put Options on CNX Resources (CNX)

From Donald Scott, Investor Newsletter, March 17th, 2018

CNX Resources Corp (NYSE:CNX) was the target of some unusual options trading activity on Thursday. Traders acquired 4,328 put options on the company. This represents an increase of approximately 2,674% compared to the average volume of 156 put options.


NOTE: The most obvious use of a put is as a type of insurance. In the protective put strategy, the investor buys enough puts to cover his holdings of the underlying so that if a drastic downward movement of the underlying’s price occurs, he has the option to sell the holdings at the strike price. Another use is for speculation: an investor can take a short position in the underlying stock without trading in it directly.


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